Manxome foe votsb 3, p.2

Manxome Foe votsb-3, page 2

 part  #3 of  Voyage of the Space Bubble Series

 

Manxome Foe votsb-3
 



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  Behind them were the Piersons. Mr. Pierson and Mrs. Pierson looked pretty much the same as they always had, a good looking couple. Mr. Pierson was the local veterinarian, Mrs. Pierson had been a legal secretary to one of the town’s lawyers for years. But Eric stopped and blinked for a moment at the people with them. The Piersons had four children. Paul had been a year ahead of Eric in school and Eric heard he’d gone to college so he wasn’t around. The youngest girl had to be Linda, but she’d really grown. She must be ten or so by now and had shot up. Then there was Hector. He was recognizable by the shock of white hair but that was about it. Where’d the pimples come from?

  But the one that really caught him was the teenage girl with them. The other Pierson child would be Brooke but… that couldn’t be Brooke. He conjured up a vague memory of a gawky and awkward blonde girl who had just entered high school the year he was graduating. She’d had a serious overbite that mildly affected her speech and a mass of metal to go with it. Nice hair, a mass of naturally curly blonde locks, but…

  Jesus! It had to be Brooke Pierson. But the maulking vision in a pink dress sitting with them couldn’t… Same damned hair, though. Shit, it was Brooke… She’d sure shot more than up.

  He turned away as the girl in question looked his way, as if divining that he’d been staring. It wasn’t that, though. He’d caught other looks from the congregation as the service had gone on. The dress blues certainly stood out and Dad had told him that the decoration had been written up in the local paper. Given that they weren’t, as far as anyone knew, at war, the award of the Navy Cross had been big news in a very small town.

  Looking away from the girl who… hell, she’d be seventeen, which would get you twenty even in West Virginia… he saw Coach Radner looking his way. The old paratrooper gave him a respectful nod, one former warrior to the present generation, and turned back to ignoring the sermon.

  It was times like this that got Eric thinking. Looking around the congregation he picked out the veterans. There were a bunch: small towns like Crab Orchard had always provided more than their fair share of soldiers and Marines. But they left quite a few behind, too. The annual Memorial Day celebrations pointed that out, the roads lined with crosses with names on them. More crosses than there were people who lived in the town it sometimes seemed. WWII, WWI, Korea, Vietnam, the aborted “War on Terror,” the Dreen War…

  Would one of those crosses one day say “Eric Bergstresser”? Or would he be one of the guys in the congregation, running to fat but there to see their grandkids? Would he sit around in the VFW hall and tell stories about crabpus and Demons? Or would he be an empty box in a grave, a guy people sort of recalled on Memorial Day, but really nothing but a fading memory?

  He shook his head to clear the thought as the sermon finally droned to a close. The new priest, priestess, whatever, sure seemed devoted but my God she was boring. There had to be better uses of his time but Mom wanted to show off her Marine-hero son. Given that it might be the last chance she got, he owed her that. It was that that had decided him on coming. Not that he was going to put it to her that way.

  Since he was in church he figured he ought to pray, some, for a chance to come back to it. But he was blanking on prayers. No, there was one.

  “For heathen heart that puts her trust

  In reeking tube and iron shard —

  All valiant dust that builds on dust,

  And, guarding, calls not Thee to guard.

  For frantic boast and foolish word,

  Thy Mercy on Thy People, Lord!”

  “What was that, Eric?” his mom asked, as the congregation rose to do what Eric thought of as “the huggy” thing.

  “Just a prayer, Mom,” Eric said as the lady in front of him, whom he didn’t recognize, turned around to get a hug and a welcome. “It’s called ‘Recessional.’ ”

  2

  Getting from Huntsville to Newport News had once been a major endeavor. Especially after the events of 9/11 when security cracked down on airport travel.

  The virtual destruction of the mujahideen movement in the Dreen War had pretty much eliminated the need for the increased security measures. But they had, of course, continued on as long as the airlines survived. The only thing more eternal than the stars was a government program. However, the increasing replacement of airlines with Looking Glasses had eventually killed even the TSA.

  Even up to a couple of years before, security had searched people moving through the Glasses. There wasn’t any reason for it that Weaver could ever see; the Glasses weren’t exactly worthwhile targets. Sure, you could shut one down. If you set off a nuke in close proximity. But the nuke was the problem, not the Glass shutting down.

  Eventually even Congress had come to its senses and now there wasn’t any more “security” than a minor police presence in airports. The airports remained as a good center for long-range Glasses, but that was about all.

  So as soon as he got to his car, Bill drove to the Huntsville Airport. He parked in long-term parking, hoping that he’d get a chance to move the car somewhere else if he was going to be gone long, then walked into the terminal. There was a Glass opening to DC in fifteen minutes at Gate Nine.

  He had plenty of time to walk to the gate and got there well before the opening time. Really, it was just traffic control. People could walk back and forth easily enough but you couldn’t see if anyone was coming on the other side; Glasses would pass certain particles but not electrons or any wavelength of light. The “opening” times were just to make sure nobody ran into a person coming the other way. Bill had suggested a system based on muon generators that could be used as a signalling system but it hadn’t gotten implemented last time he checked.

  Apparently the last group had already finished when Bill arrived. On a Sunday afternoon there wasn’t exactly heavy traffic back and forth. In the morning there would be, as commuters to DC headed out. Recently, given that Glasses meant you could go as far as you wanted in no time at all, people had started using them to commute some really incredible distances. One guy Bill knew lived in Portland, Oregon, and worked in DC. It took him less time to get to his house than it had when he lived in Alexandria, and most of it was driving through Portland’s traffic. But given the differential in time, he missed even Portland’s rush hour on his way home. Of course, he had to get up at oh-my-god thirty to get to work.

  The light over the Glass went green and Bill joined the group of eight or so that lined up, dropped a token or swiped a card through the turnstile and stepped through the Glass. On previous trips there had been some balkers, people who hadn’t quite gotten the hang of going through a Glass. But this group, clearly, was experienced with the trip. All of them just went through, no muss, no fuss.

  The other side wasn’t at Reagan National; the Glass exited in Union Station, the main rail and metro station in DC. Bill headed down two escalators and along a nearly deserted metro platform to the now familiar Glass to Newport News. There were, in fact, three Glasses on the platform, one for Newport News, one for Little Creek and one for Norfolk Naval Station. They had been installed since the last mission and Bill had already gotten in the habit of using them to get from one base to the other. It was quicker and easier to go to DC then back to Norfolk than it was to drive across town.

  The light over the Glass was green — the count-down timer having a bit over five minutes left before the next switch — so he just swiped his card again and stepped through. The card he used was also his military ID and a charge card; the charge for the transfer would be automatically debited from his bank through it. There was a website he could access where he could adjust the charge to the military, given that he had been recalled. But it really wasn’t worth the two bucks the trip was costing.

  The exit at Newport News was in a recently constructed semi-secure building. The room was secured by a bored-looking guard who was there to prevent troublemakers and the unworthy from entering the base. Hell, there were people who just stepped through the wrong
Glass.

  Bill held up his card and gestured at the exit door to the room.

  “Go ahead, Commander,” the guard said, nodding from behind the aliglass. “I got the word you were on the way. There’s a field car waiting for you.”

  The “field car” was a golf cart driven by a warrant officer. Notably, Chief Warrant Officer Todd Miller, U.S. Navy SEALs. Bill slipped into the passenger seat and the SEAL pushed down the pedal, sending them deeper into the base at the cart’s maximum speed of slightly faster than a trot.

  “What’s up, if you can say?” Bill asked.

  “I dunno, sir,” Miller said. “I just got here, my own self. And got told to go pick you up. But Greg Townsend’s chairing the meet.”

  “Admiral Townsend’s here?” Bill asked. Townsend was the commander of Norfolk Naval Base. As one of his “other duties” he was also the senior officer of the Vorpal Blade project. He was being bruted as the next commander of the operational arm of Space Command as soon as the Powers That Be went public with the Blade and turned it into the Space Navy.

  “Everybody got the word to come to the ship instead of to Norfolk, sir,” Miller said with a shrug. “Usual cluster fuck.”

  “Great,” Bill replied, crossing his arms. It was just a tad chilly for spandex bike shorts and an Underarmor top.

  “Nice outfit,” Miller said with a grin. He was wearing a pair of cut-off desert BDU pants and a Hawaiian shirt.

  “I was biking,” Bill replied.

  “I was getting ready to have a family barbeque,” Miller said, clearly trying not to snarl. “My wife was less than thrilled.”

  “How’s she handling your reactivation?” Bill asked.

  “Not too happy,” Miller admitted. “But the nice thing about Glasses is that I can commute from Diego. And if she couldn’t handle the thought of me buying it on a mission we would have divorced decades ago.”

  They pulled to a stop in front of the headquarters for the Blade project and went through the usual security rigmarole. It was a bit harder than getting on the base. There were four steel doors to negotiate and a guard station. From there, Miller led the way to Secure Room Four. Bill turned over his cellbud and PDA at the guard station, then entered.

  The secure room had mostly familiar faces in it. Admiral Townsend was at the head of the table. He was in civilian clothes as well, wearing a polo shirt. Captain Steven “Spectre” Blankemeier, the ship’s CO, was wearing a T-shirt with an ace of spades on it and a squadron number. The new XO, Commander Rey Coldsmith, was the only one of the senior officers in uniform. Coldsmith was a submarine officer who’d come up through engineering. With degrees in both nuclear engineering and physics, he was a close second to Weaver in his understanding of the new drive. He did not, however, have Weaver’s background in quantum mechanics and astronomy.

  Captain James Zanella, the new Marine company commander and First Sergeant Jeffrey Powell were also present. Powell was one of the five Marine survivors of the previous mission. Tall and slim with a deeply wrinkled face from lots of time in the sunshine, the Marine Senior NCO had a masters degree in international relations from the Sorbonne. The latter had come in handy in negotiating with the Cheerick on their previous mission. Zanella was even taller than his first sergeant with a greyhound physique and black hair shot with premature gray. Zanella was in a polo shirt but the first sergeant was wearing a T-shirt with a dragon fighting a wizard on the front.

  The one face Weaver couldn’t place was a lieutenant in undress uniform. His nametag read: Fey.

  Weaver was, by far, the most underdressed. But he could handle that.

  “Glad you finally made it, Commander,” Admiral Townsend said without any notable rancor.

  “I was near the top of a mountain in Alabama, sir,” Bill said, taking a seat. “It took me a while to bike down then get to the glassport.”

  “Understood,” Townsend said, looking around and letting loose a grim smile. “This caught us all flat-footed. Lieutenant?”

  “To introduce myself, I’m Lieutenant Chris Fey with SpaceCom’s Office of Alien Technologies,” the LT said. “This got routed through SpaceCom and I was the officer they dispatched to give the good news.”

  “Which is?” Bill asked.

  “Not good,” the lieutenant said, keying on his computer and projecting a starmap on the wall. A star was highlighted. “This is HD 36951, located just north of Orion’s Belt in the sky and is about five hundred and fourteen light-years from Earth. It is a Class A3 type star. Its Gamma planet is a gate world, one of the most distant we have. The gate opens about fifty miles from Wichita, Kansas, in a wheat field. What is called a Type Six boson resonance, for those familiar with the term. Not a Dreen Type Three, in other words. There has been a small science party there for some time gathering astronomical and archaeological data. It’s quite close to the Orion Cluster and had recently gotten some upgraded equipment and personnel due to recent work on Dreen gates. Admiral, I need to elaborate.”

  “Go,” the admiral said, leaning back.

  “As Commander Weaver is aware, and I’m sure most of you are, gate links are somewhat traceable,” Lieutenant Fey said. “Inactive bosons that are trying to link send out a steady stream of muons in the direction of the nearest linkable gate. Once linked, the same muon stream is detectable. During the Dreen War, Commander Weaver — as a side-note to trying to close the gates — did some studies of Dreen links.”

  “They were hard to track with the stuff we had at that time,” Bill said, frowning. “We never really could get a good direction on them.”

  “Well, our office took your original data and crunched it… a little harder,” the lieutenant said, smiling slightly. “What we determined was that most of the Dreen gates, all the ones surveyed, seemed to point towards the Sagittarius constellation area. There is a cluster of stars, called a ‘local group,’ in that area that we now believe to be the primary center for Dreen worlds. It’s located in the Sagittarius arm, fortunately.”

  “How far away… ?” the admiral started to say.

  “The galaxy is divided into arms, sir,” Fey said, pulling up another picture of the local portion of the galaxy with some stars marked in on it. “We’re here, in the Orion Arm. The next arm over is the Sagittarius Arm. We’re talking, straight distance, about a thousand light-years away, possibly two thousand.”

  “Two thousand hours,” Captain Blankemeier said with a wince. “At max speed. Long damned way.”

  “I like it,” Admiral Townsend said. “The farther away they are the better. But that’s not why we’re here.”

  “No, sir,” the lieutenant said. “However, it’s important to the story of HD 36951. The point is that HD 36951 is the nearest gate we have to the area the Dreen may be infesting. So the post was recently upgraded with a small security contingent and there were plans in the works to put up a satellite system. However…”

  He tapped his computer again and a video started. The initial view was of the ground and the audio of panting.

  “The base… it’s gone…” a man’s voice said, the view coming up and showing an area of dust and smoke. “There was… a big explosion. I was out surveying the… there’s… Oh, my God…”

  The view whipped upwards and a dark shadow could be seen in the sky. The outlines were ovoid but that was about all that could be seen as the view began jumping all over the place.

  “Grapp this… grapp this…” the voice said, panting and apparently running. “I’m heading for the gate. If I don’t make it…”

  The screen went to snow suddenly and the strained voice was cut off.

  “On the far side of the gate a major explosion was detected coming through,” Lieutenant Fey said, cutting off the video. “Kinetic energy only, no radiation. A response team took about two hours to get there. The local sheriff’s office in the meantime sealed off the gate. The response team from SpaceCom found the base destroyed, apparently as a result of a kinetic strike. They also found the video camera but
not the person using it who, based on the voice analysis, was Dr. Charles Talbot, an archaeologist studying the ruins on the world. There was no evidence of any alien presence; however, based on standard protocol a Mark-88 was fired through the gate, destabilizing it, and the gate is now being moved to Antarctic secure area as all potential Dreen gates have been moved.

  “While the main base was destroyed, there was a secondary base in the nearby ruins. It is likely that there were survivors of the initial attack and the blast. They had limited supplies, however. Their holding out for the time for us to get there would be… problematic.

  “That concludes my briefing, sir.”

  “And we’re supposed to go find out what happened, sir?” Blankemeier said. “We were supposed to be taking the new ambassador to Cheerick, sir.”

  “And you will, after this mission,” Admiral Townsend said. “There are several pieces to this. It’s unlikely that a rock just dropped on the planet and happened to hit the base. Somebody destroyed it. We need to know who, especially if it’s the Dreen. And Dr. Talbot, although not an astronomer, might know enough about the galaxy to direct the probable enemy here. For that matter, there’s the possibility of survivors. So you’re going out, now. As fast as possible. Head to this… what was the star, son?”

  “HD 36951, sir,” the lieutenant said.

  “Head to that star, find the planet, find out what happened if you can, check for any survivors, then try to find out who did this,” the admiral said. “If it’s the Dreen we have to know if they’re there. It would be good to find out something about their space technology for that matter. All we got from the Mreee was that they had some. What’s the status of your ship? The real status.”

 
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